New Zealand Weightlifter Poised to Become First Transgender Olympian

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A man named Laurel Hubbard could be the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics if named to the New Zealand team that will take part in this summer’s Games in Tokyo.

A weightlifter from New Zealand, Hubbard, 43, benefits from a rule change approved by the International Olympic Committee that makes him automatically qualified for the women’s superheavyweight division.

An Australian news website reported on the development:

It means Hubbard, who won silver at the 2017 world championships and represented New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games before suffering a serious injury in competition, will likely become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. While she will be the oldest weightlifter at the Games, she will also be a genuine medal hopeful with her qualifying lifts ranking her at fourth out of the 14 qualifiers in the 87kg-plus category.

However, Hubbard’s historic achievement for trans athletes will likely also spark controversy from others who insist she has an unfair advantage. In 2015, the IOC issued new guidelines allowing athletes who transition from male to female to compete in the women’s category provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months prior to their first competition — a rule also followed by the International Weightlifting Federation.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she beat Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, sparked outrage in the island nation. Australia’s weightlifting federation tried to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but it was rejected by organizers.

The report said the New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed that weightlifters who qualify under the amended rule would be evaluated and decide about Hubbard in the coming weeks. 

“The New Zealand Team has a strong culture of manaaki and inclusion and respect for all. We look forward to supporting all athletes selected to the New Zealand Team in Tokyo 2020,” an NZOC press release released on Thursday said.

Officials have until July 5 to designate teams for the Summer Games.

The report noted that recent studies show transgender women maintain an athletic advantage over biological women even after a year of hormone therapy. Before deciding to “identify” as a woman in 2013, Hubbard competed in men’s weightlifting competitions but not in international contests.

“The rules that enabled me to compete first went into effect in 2003,” Hubbard said in an interview after finishing second in the 2017 world championships. “They are known as the Stockholm consensus with the IOC, but I think even 10 years ago, the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself — and perhaps it is not ready now. 

“But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me for these competitions, and it seemed like the right time to put the boots on and hit the platform,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard is ranked 16th in the world, but several of the athletes ranked higher will not be at the Games because of a rule limiting nations to one lifter per category.

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